Reviewing A Year Of ISE-University Partnerships

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December 14th, 2015

From December 2014 to December 2015, featured ISE-University partnerships, and the growing connections between formal and informal STEM learning communities. In the following blog posts, some common themes emerged from the thoughts and experiences of the authors although the collaborations and projects are distinct: the mutually beneficial relationships, informal STEM settings as a natural venue for scientists to communicate their research, and public audiences ready to hear about current science research.

At CAISE, we hope you will find the following stories and experiences informative, and be inspired to reach out in your communities to create your own ISE-University partnerships.

The Evolving Partnership Between Museums And Universities In The Public Interest

Emlyn Koster, Director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Adjunct Professor at North Carolina State University (NCSU), and Jason Cryan, Deputy Museum Director for Research and Collections at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Adjunct Professor at NCSU launched the blog series featuring ISE-University Partnerships in December 2014. Through sharing these types of partnerships, the aspiration for this blog series was to inform and inspire other museums and universities across the U.S. and abroad to think creatively and transformatively about how to work together to engage the public with scientific research and its broader impacts.

University-Science Center Partnering In Ohio

The Ohio State University (OSU), one of the country’s largest public research universities, and COSI, one of the nation’s largest and most innovative science centers, have formed a deep partnership. Since the 2006 conceptualization and first agreement, COSI & OSU have created a “center of science” at COSI where research, science, and university outreach are embedded into everyday public, student, and family experiences. There are now a wide number of embedded “nodes” of the university integrated into COSI’s learning ecosystem. An overarching principle is that when university functions integrate into COSI’s footprint, they are compatible with the science center’s mission, their functions integrate into the public experience, and there is a mutual benefit in each partnership.

Next Generation Museum-University Partnerships

Collections-based museums of nature and science employ research scientists and curatorial professionals who specialize in basic science disciplines. Traditionally, museum scientists who aspired to build research programs struggled with a sense of isolation, and sought adjunct appointments with affiliated departments at partner universities. Today, museums are a unique conduit for researchers to translate their science from the laboratory to the public. At the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS) seven scientists are jointly appointed and co-funded by the NCMNS and partner institutions in the University of North Carolina System. At the museum, the staff scientists coordinate publically viewable research laboratories, and participate in science outreach and education programs. Scientists at the NCMNS experience a more engaging position than they imagine would have ensued in a traditional academic career, and their research topics have high public interest with a more newsworthy flair.

Quantum Coherence: Partnering Beyond Nano

The quantum materials researchers at Harvard, MIT, and Howard University represent some of the top people in the world in these areas, and they sincerely believe in the importance of education, outreach, and engagement. A collaboration between these formidable research universities and Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISEnet) found excellent ways to pursue key objectives through enlisting the help of scientists in the challenge of connecting complex science with broader audiences, and giving scientists insight into how they can better communicate their science to broader audiences and to each other.

SENCER-ISE: Student Engagement In Informal Science Education Through Higher Education Partnerships

SENCER-ISE (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities – Informal Science Education) is currently a three-year project funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-1237463) and the Noyce Foundation. The initiative represents the National Center for Science & Civic Engagement’s (NCSCE) efforts to encourage educators from formal higher education and informal science institutions to work together to develop meaningful science based learning experiences for students and the public. Through SENCER-ISE, NCSCE provides support for ten cross-sector partnerships between different types of museums and undergraduate institutions, which can involve science researchers, but also involve the participation of undergraduate and graduate students in partnership activities.

Project TRUE – Teens Researching Urban Ecology

Realizing the need for urban ecology research and to train a new generation of urban ecologists, Fordham and WCS partnered to form Project TRUE – Teens Researching Urban Ecology, with support from SENCER-ISE (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities- Informal Science Education). Project TRUE has a mission to increase the rate of high school youth pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors, by facilitating connections with college mentors already pursuing STEM fields, and by introducing teen youth to urban ecology research. Project TRUE utilizes a tiered-mentorship model that cascades mentoring from urban ecology research faculty guiding graduate student researchers that then train undergraduate students to oversee the design and implementation of research projects done by high school teens.

Genome Ambassadors: Promoting Public Understanding Of Genomics

Genomics represents a scientific frontier that connects with individuals and families at the most personal level, with the potential to shape the future of human healthcare. The Connecticut Science Center (CSC) and the University of Connecticut partnered under the NSF and Noyce Foundation-funded Science Education for New Civic Engagements-Informal Science Education (SENCER-ISE)  initiative, at the National Center for Science & Civic Engagement, to afford opportunities for postgraduate students to gain new perspectives on best practices in communication skills at the public-scientist interface and help to frame the context for an upcoming CSC exhibit on genomics, “The Genome in Me.” Over the course of three years, the project will develop a framework for an institutionalized, ongoing partnership between UCONN and the CSC to support the Genome Ambassadors Summer Fellowship program and the Teen Innovation Program in Genomics.

Sciencenter And Cornell University Research On Early Childhood Cognition

Three years ago, the Sciencenter, a hands-on science museum in Ithaca, New York, was approached by researchers from Cornell University’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab (ECC Lab) who were in search of a real-world setting in which to study the processes by which children learn about cause and effect. The Sciencenter turned out to be a perfect place to find young subjects for researchers, a clear benefit to the ECC Lab. And the collaboration benefited the Sciencenter and its visitors as well. For families visiting the museum, the immediate benefit has been watching the process of scientific research, meeting real scientists and having their questions answered at a “living” exhibit. At the Sciencenter, research assistants often engage families in a discussion about the importance of research and the benefits to participation.

Developing A Partnership: The Natural Academy Of Science And Drexel University

The Natural Academy of Science and Drexel University were founded as two separate institutions in Philadelphia, PA in the 1800s. For over a hundred years they worked separately in STEM education and research, until 2011 when they formed an affiliation, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. The affiliation was a synergistic opportunity that draws on the strengths of both institutions. When forming the partnership, Drexel and the Academy were looking for ways to leverage their strengths to deepen and extend their impact in the Philadelphia community. The Academy draws upon the University’s faculty and resources for its exhibitions and programs, and the University can access the Academy’s vast natural science collections and researchers.

Museum Professionals Share Their Thoughts On Museum-University Partnerships Focused On Brain Research

Bringing the year of ISE-University Partnerships to a close, Donna DiBartolomeo, Director of Exhibits, Sciencenter, Michelle Kortenaar, Director of Education, Sciencenter, Jayatri Das, Chief Bioscientist, The Franklin Institute, and Holly Truitt, Executive Director, The University of Montana spectrUM Discovery Area share their thoughts and experiences on informal STEM education, working with scientists, and the scientific field of brain research.